The Civil War: Benjamin Hill: Speech at Milledgeville

November 15, 1860

There is an assumption that people throughout the South were the only ones calling for a dissolution of the Union. This is a faulty assumption; there were people in the North who saw no potential for reconciliation and called for dissolution. Some people even argued that the Constitution’s acknowledgement of slavery was a basis to set it aside and to replace it with a document that reestablished the republic without the institution of slavery—albeit a republic comprised of only those states that would not tolerate slavery.

Benjamin Hill, in Milledgeville, Georgia, recognized the gravity of the South seceding and sought to have a more thorough and complete understanding of why southern states could potentially take this drastic measure. Hill held a fondness for what the country had accomplished despite the acrimony between the states. He said: “The government is the result of much toil, much blood, much anxiety, and much treasure. For nearly a century we have been accustomed to speak and boast of it as the best on earth. Wrapped up in it are the lives, the happiness, the interests, and the peace of thirty millions of freemen now living, and of unnumbered millions in the future.”

Hill continued:

“Whether we shall now destroy that government or make another effort to preserve it and reform its abuses, is the question before us. Is that question not entitled to all the wisdom, the moderation, and the prudence we can command? Were you ever at sea in a storm? Then you know the sailor often finds it necessary, to enable him to keep his ship above the wave, to throw overboard his freight, even his treasures. But with his chart and his compass he never parts. However dark the heavens or furious the winds, with these he can still point the polar star, and find the port of his safety. Would not that sailor be mad who would throw these overboard?”

“We are at sea, my friends. The skies are fearfully darkened. The billows roll threateningly. Dangers are on every side. Let us throw overboard our passions, our prejudices, and our party feelings, however long or highly valued. But let us hold on—hold on to reason and moderation. These, and these alone, point always to the fixed star of truth, by whose guidance we may yet safely come to shore.”

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